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Maddux’s Presence Is a Gift for the Dodgers

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

Giving Greg Maddux a 10-run lead is like spotting Monet a sunset.

“Runs can make you look good real quick,” the rosin-stained artist said.

Giving Greg Maddux a 10-run lead is like handing Einstein a calculator.

“You just make ‘em hit it,” the dirt-caked thinker said.

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In an embarrassment of riches Saturday night, the Dodgers took the field in the second inning against the San Francisco Giants with a 10-run lead and a 328-game winner on the mound.

It nearly became an embarrassment, period, but witnesses soon learned something about this team and the man in the middle of its resurgence.

The only thing more fun than watching Maddux succeed is watching Maddux survive.

He allowed six runs, four earned, in six innings. But he did it with six strikeouts, no walks, and all the nudges and noogies necessary to help ease the Dodgers to a 14-7 victory.

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Even when the Dodgers’ new star is not great, he’s good enough, and ask anyone who has sweated through late September, sometimes that’s more important.

“The guy brings some intangibles that you will never see,” said Manager Grady Little after Maddux helped bust the Dodgers’ two-game losing streak. “Just, his presence.”

His presence was there even after Saturday’s game, as he was that rare relieved starting pitcher who was not showered and dressed when the clubhouse doors open.

Even though he’s out, the guy stays in uniform and watches the game.

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He eventually showed up at his locker, slipped on jeans and a golf shirt, and pulled out an open bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Which he poured into a Dixie cup.

“I’m happy we’ve been doing so well, it’s fun, I hope we can keep it up for another month and a half,” he said, pausing. “I mean, 2 1/2 months.”

Since Maddux arrived three weeks ago, the dreams have indeed gotten bigger.

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The Dodgers are 4-0 in his four starts. He has a 2.08 ERA. The entire pitching staff has a 3.48 ERA, more than a point below the 4.45 ERA of the previous four months.

“A total coincidence,” Maddux said with a grin.

Not so, said Little.

“He brings instant respect,” said the manager.

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And he brings it early, in the first inning Saturday, setting the tone after a desultory loss here Friday, retiring the Giants on 14 pitches and three grounders.

That presence continued in the second inning, and third inning, nine up, nine down, nothing out of the infield.

“I guess I was pitching halfway decent,” Maddux said.

In the fourth inning, halfway decent approached full-blown history with leadoff hitter Randy Winn’s groundout.

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Dating to last Sunday’s gem against the Giants in Los Angeles, Maddux had retired 32 consecutive batters, nine short of the major-league record held by the Giants’ Jim Barr.

“Watching him, it’s amazing,” said reliever Brett Tomko.

Amazing was what happened next. Maddux suddenly lost his touch, but then just as suddenly, just in time, he found it again.

The next four Giants batters smacked the ball around, ending the streak and putting up four runs. Then, off went the spigot, Shea Hillenbrand popping out and Pedro Feliz striking out on three pitches to end the inning, Dodgers leading by six.

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“With all the runs they got me, you just have to make the other team earn its runs,” Maddux said. “You don’t give in, but you make ‘em earn it. You throw it over the plate. So I did.”

A botched grounder by Nomar Garciaparra at first base led to two unearned runs in the fifth, closing the gap to four runs before Maddux said, in typical understated fashion, “Enough.”

The sixth, his final inning was as dominant as his first, three outs, nine pitches, he leaves the game with the Dodgers soundly into their route.

It was so smooth, so normal, afterward the future Hall of Fame pitcher only got excited when talking about his ... hitting?

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Leading off the Dodgers’ seven-run second inning, Maddux drove a ball into right-center field.

In typical Maddux fashion, he didn’t watch. So he had no idea where it went. He just started running, keeping his head down as he rounded first, wondering if someone was going to stop him or tag him or something.

“I was worried about missing first base,” he said.

By the time he got near second base, he heard an umpire shout, “Two, two.”

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Only then did he realize he had a ground-rule double, the ball bouncing over the fence.

“Good thing I heard the umpire,” he said. “I would have looked pretty silly running all the way around the bases.”

He sighed.

“I can’t hit,” he said. “I never could hit.”

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The Dodgers will somehow manage to forgive him.

Extra Points

* Sitting with the statues of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal at San Francisco’s AT&T; Park on Saturday, this Southern Californian wondered.

Isn’t it time for the Dodgers to erect a statue of someone at Chavez Ravine?

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The figures of Magic Johnson and Wayne Gretzky in front of Staples Center not only give the building class, but community, serving as a meeting spot for hundreds of fans nightly.

“Meet me at the Sandy Koufax statue?”

Sounds good to me.

* Amid all the foolishness in Anaheim this week, the suspension of Angel Manager Mike Scioscia has reminded us of one solid truth:

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He has an entire coaching staff of managers.

Ron Roenicke, Bud Black and Alfredo Griffin will all be good big-league bosses one day. And when they leave, Anaheim will be a very different place.

* Don’t scream at the media for demanding that USC and UCLA hold their student-athletes accountable and then tsk-tsk-tsk when Maurice Clarett shows what happens when schools don’t.


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